How To Identify Hickory Wood For Smoking- Easy And Simple Ways

Hickory wood is one of the classic smoking wood used for barbecues. It has a nutty and strong aroma that is the perfect companion to accompany smoked pork butt, brisket, or beef chuck. But how to identify hickory wood for smoking?

Considering that hickory wood is very versatile for smoking, has distinct burning qualities, and imparts a unique aroma to smoked food, you mustn’t mistake this wood for another. 

Identifying hickory wood is important because some woods burn longer than others, and deliver different aromas; therefore, to not confuse yourself among the woods, make use of our proposed easy and simple ways for how to identify hickory wood for smoking!

wood which you can use in smoker

How To Identify Hickory Wood For Smoking

Pit masters are a fan of the hickory wood and love to use the wood for smoking, either alone or as a combination with other kinds of wood. Regardless, if you are only going to smoke your food over hickory wood- how to identify hickory wood for smoking?

Hickory wood belongs to the section of the walnut family, and the canopy tree is most prevalent in the east of North America. However, other species of hickory are also found in continents like Asia, Africa, and Europe. 

Wood extracted from a hickory tree is strong, dense, and, most importantly, shock resistant which it is employed in creating furniture, tool handles, and architectural elements. Similarly, hickory wood is also used to prepare food, specifically in smoking meat. 

Easy And Simple Identification Ways

Supposedly, if you are out in a forest, wandering to find some hickory wood around you, identifying hickory trees from which you can directly extract the wood can prove to you of massive assistance. 

To identify a hickory tree, you will have to explore some of the tree’s features such as the shape of its leaves, stalk, bark etc. 

Leaf Size

Compared to other trees, the leaves of the hickory trees are very quickly recognizable due to their highly differentiated shape. Hickory leaves are narrow, long, and grow out of each stalk with their size varying per the hickory species. Nevertheless, typically, a hickory leaf is two to eight inches long.

full size tree

Additionally, the leaves will have serrated and sharply pointing edges, but a handful of hickory trees can also have rounded serrations on their leaves.

Stalk’s Shape

Leaves on a hickory tree grow out of a rachis, or a distinctive stalk that generally and at the least comprises five to seven leaflets. Leaflets vary in size, with the ones being closer to the leaf’s tip being larger than the ones located toward the end of the base. 


Despite the hickory tree species, its bark only grows in a vertical pattern. Although the bark’s pattern can be deep or shallow, clustered close or far apart, you will always find them growing upwards. 

Likewise, some barks with the maturing of the hickory tree will grow even further vertically and be raised upward, eventually flaking off. With this precise pattern of the bark in mind and observing the various trees closely, you can quickly identify a hickory tree to withdraw some hickory wood. 


A tree’s pith is the column in the center of its branches. Again, similar to the bark, all hickory trees will always have the same kind of pith, which will be tan, solid, and five-sided.

find hickory tree

To rule out a hickory tree in the wild, speculate the branch’s end from where you usually cut the tree. If you see a star-shaped or a five-sided centered tan at the spot, it is surely the tree you have been looking for. 

After finding the pith of a hickory tree and before cutting it to use the hickory wood for smoking, it is important to ensure that the pith is solid. Cut off a small branch and slice it along the length for this. A solid pith will have no midsection, but if a midsection exists, the hickory wood is not ideal for smoking, and you should reconsider its use. 

Oak Vs. Hickory Wood

Most people end up confusing oak and hickory wood, and often, when you purchase a mixed load of hardwood, forming the distinction between oak vs. hickory wood is very challenging. 

Flame Test 

Conducting a flame test over them is one shortcut for discriminating between oak and hickory wood. Examining the barks often results in mixed and confounding results, but the flame test is ideal and gives perfect results. 

fire test

Conduct a flame test over your smoker at work to ensure your safety. Take small, random samples from different woods and hold the wood above the ignited flame. 

When the wood starts burning, various kinds of aromas will be released. If the wood were a sample from oak wood, you would experience the aroma to be a lot more subtle. On the other hand, if the sample was from a hickory wood, you will witness that the aroma is strong and will immediately hit you like a train as soon as it is released into the air.

Even though the flame test procedure is time-consuming and requires you to invest effort in conducting it, rest assured it’s worth it. All you would have to do is take wood samples from different wood piles and run a fire test to separate oak from hickory wood. 

Choosing Hickory Wood

Identifying hickory wood is simple and easy; you just have to keep a vigilant and keen eye out to inspect a hickory tree, and once your suspicion is confirmed, you can use that wood for smoking purposes.

However, the decision gets complicated when the situation narrows down to choosing hickory wood for smoking amongst the other various kinds. Particularly, grill masters find themselves in a dilemma relating to oak and hickory wood as both have commendable characteristics, lasting burning times, and impart sensual flavors to the food.

burning wood in smoker

Eventually, you get better at deciding the wood for smoking with practice, but for the time being, and if you are a beginner, it might not always be convenient. Hence, you must decide on the outcome of the food you aspire to achieve.

For example, if you want the meat to have a smoked and strong flavor, you might want to choose hickory wood, whereas if your goal is to smoke meat that is not overpowering and has a mild flavor, then there is no better option than oak wood.

Shortlisting the woods based on their flavor and smell is a much preferred technique than considering the burn time. This is because most of the woods have an almost similar burn time, and their lastingness can be enhanced through certain mechanisms such as soaking wood, reducing the oxygen it receives, and many more. 

But you can never go wrong with smell and flavor, particularly the slight tinge and sweetness brought about and added to beef and pork with hickory wood. 

Also, remember that per the meat you are smoking, the demands of the flavor and the wood that you want to utilize are subject to changes, so do not hold smoking meat against stringent wood criteria.


The best thing that we recommend you do for how to identify hickory wood for smoking is first to locate a hickory tree. You all must have heard that tackling the cause can minimize the consequences, and so is the case with first identifying a hickory tree and then using its wood for smoking.

With our easy and simple ways, you can identify hickory wood and then, through the test flame method, further distinguish hickory woods from other kinds of wood!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you tell if the wood is hickory?

You can tell if the wood is hickory by looking at its bark and observing whether it is growing vertically or upwardly. Also, observe the pith to see if it is of a tan color, five-sided, or star-shaped.

What is hickory wood good for smoking?

It is ideal for smoking turkeys, whole chicken, and larger cuts of beef brisket.

What are the characteristics of hickory wood?

Hickey wood imparts a sweetened flavor to the food. It is one of the strongest woods and is shock-resistant, dense, and heavy. Also, is stronger compared to oak wood.

What Colour is hickory wood?

Hickory wood is typically found in a reddish brown or brown color.